Compromising on incompatible values: The case of political veganism
I argue in this paper that intra-personal compromise plays an important but largely neglected role for political veganism. I further argue that even though compromising intra-personally can help vegan activists to achieve their goals, some compromises inevitably come with a moral cost that may not be acceptable to individual activists.
According to recent empirical data, most vegan activists (henceforth V) consider the suffering of non-human animals to be the most important reason for living vegan, while only a minority considers other motives, such as environmental or health concerns, to be the most important reason for veganism (e.g., Kalte, 2021). It can therefore be said that raising awareness about animal suffering is of utmost importance to V. I call this the awareness-raising-principle, in short: principle (A). On the other hand, to reduce animal suffering, V also aim to promote veganism as effectively as possible. I call this the effectiveness-principle, in short: principle (E).
However, principles (A) and (E) are not always compatible, i.e., they cannot always be simultaneously realized. More concretely, I suggest that an incompatibility arises in situations where V address an audience with pre-existing values that support veganism without reference to animal suffering, e.g., a concern for protecting the environment, alleviating world hunger, or increasing public health. In these situations, the effectiveness-principle (E) requires V to promote veganism in terms of those pre-existing values rather than in terms of animal suffering, which is notoriously difficult to convey (e.g., Loughnan et al., 2010, Piazza et al., 2015; Rothgerber & Rosenfeld, 2021). However, realizing principle (E) in this scenario – catering to the audience, so to speak – inevitably means refraining from realizing principle (A). And vice versa, if V choose to realize (A), they cannot realize (E), since (A) is, in this case, not the most effective way to proceed.
This dilemma situation constitutes a classical scenario for intra-personal compromise. Because both principles are incompatible, V unavoidably have to sacrifice something, no matter which choice they make: If V choose to focus on animal suffering, they compromise principle (E), thus sacrificing effectiveness. And if V choose to tailor to the audience and exclude references to animal suffering, they compromise principle (A), thus sacrificing their most important value.
Based on a cost-benefit analysis of both compromise options, I argue that compromising (A) comes with a distinct moral cost that compromising (E) does not entail: By promoting veganism for reasons other than animal suffering, V implicitly demote animals to mere means rather than ends in themselves, thus also betraying their moral value as sentient beings. I conclude that while both intra-personal compromises can support V in achieving their goal of reducing animal suffering, compromising E may be preferable to compromising A, given the unique moral cost that the latter entails for the individual vegan activist.